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Meeting to help warzone academics

Published 12/07/2015

Ongoing conflict in Iraq has led to the deaths of hundreds of students and academics
Ongoing conflict in Iraq has led to the deaths of hundreds of students and academics

Almost 500 academics have been killed in post-war violence Iraq alone, according to prominent figures from Higher Education around the world - who are gathering in the UK to declare their support for universities shattered in recent conflicts.

Researchers and teachers are gathering in York this week in the wake of a series of recent violent attacks on colleges and universities.

In April, 147 people died when al-Shabab militants attacked Garissa University College in Kenya.

Another focus will be on Syria, where the higher education system has almost entirely collapsed with unknown consequences for many students and their teachers.

Iraq has seen campuses looted, burned or destroyed in post-war violence - leaving hundreds of academics dead.

The York Accord, on Friday, will aim to draw further attention to the importance of higher education in war-torn countries and will see a call for system to be established to allow students and academics from conflict-affected institutions to study elsewhere in the world.

Professor Sultan Barakat, director of research at the Brookings Doha Centre in Qatar, said this could be a quota agreement - with universities accepting two scholarships a year for a student and an academic displaced by conflict.

"That's all it takes, to show a degree of solidarity," Prof Barakat said.

"We would like to set up a structure that helps those universities organise their efforts.

"Now it is all very ad-hoc. A lot of it is driven by the good will of individual institutions but it doesn't add up to much."

Prof Barakat said : "Universities are at the centre of the Arab Spring. It is very much driven by young, educated people who feel they could have had a better life.

"This is why so many universities have become a target for a lot of security operations in Egypt, Libya and Syria. And I don't think it is going to change any time soon.

"My hope is that universities can really stand by those which are affected by conflict in a way that demonstrates an awareness of their circumstances, but also an understanding of the potential that exists for proper and mutual collaboration."

The University of York has joined with the Brookings Doha Centre, and the Institute of International Education (IIE) to convene the meeting.

Prof Barakat said; " We are hoping to get a minimum understanding amongst everyone attending of what are the basic principles for protection and recovery after conflict for higher education.

"Also, what can international institutions do in those early days to support conflict-affected institutions? It's not straightforward, the circumstances work against you.

"The moment there is a war it is very difficult to get in and out of a country. So academics and institutions go into isolation and nothing really happens. So we need to find ways that are more imaginative.

"We need to harness new technologies and new channels to access those academic communities and help them keep in touch with the rest of the world."

Prof Barakat is the founding director and current chairman of the Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit (PRDU), which was established at the University of York in 1993.

The former President of Portugal, Jorge Sampaio - who is spearheading efforts to rescue Syrian students and place them in universities, will share his thoughts at the meeting on broader global efforts to protect and rebuild higher education.

He was recently awarded the first UN Nelson Mandela Prize for his humanitarian work.

Other key figures attending include Professor Joseph Isaac, President of the African Methodist Episcopal University, Liberia and the President of Kabul University, Habibullah Habib.

And Dr Allan Goodman, the President of the Institute of International Education, is to receive an honorary degree from the University of York.

York's Vice Chancellor, Professor Koen Lamberts, said : "I am proud that York is hosting the Accord.

"We have an enduring commitment to helping academics and institutions who are innocent victims of conflict. The Accord is a way of helping them in times of great peril and it reflects one of our main research themes of justice and equality.

"I'm very much looking forward to meeting the delegates and discussing how best to help these institutions.

"The situation is extremely hazardous in many countries. Without a functioning and thriving higher education system, societies cannot progress towards peace and prosperity while entire generations of leadership are lost."

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